At least 150 vehicles bound for Armenia reportedly remained stranded on Thursday at Russia’s main border crossing with Georgia that was closed more than a week ago due to heavy snowfall.
Armenian government officials and private cargo companies could not say when the Upper Lars mountain pass, which straddles the Russian-Georgian frontier, will be reopened to traffic.
Transport and Communications Minister Manuk Vartanian said only those vehicles that reached the Georgian side the border before the blizzard can hope to be towed away from the area before the weather conditions improve.
“We hope that the cleaning will not take long and the problem will be solved in several days,” Herbert Hambardzumian, chairman of the Armenian Association of Cargo Shippers, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“Conditions are really bad there,” he said. “It’s very cold and there are no shops there. But we have to wait and see what happens.”
Some of the vehicles trapped at Upper Lars belong to the Apaven cargo firm, one of the largest in Armenia. Arsen Ghazarian, the Apaven owner, said he is now considering ordering drivers to turn back and reach Armenia through a ferry service between Russian and Georgian Black Sea ports.
“If weather conditions do not improve in one or two days, we will have to bring them back to Armenia on ferries,” Ghazarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
But according to Hambardzumian, smaller shipping firms cannot afford the ferry service now. “It would cost them at least $1,500 per truck,” he explained. “They would not only incur additional transport costs but also have to do all the [customs] paperwork anew.”
The Upper Lars crossing has long been landlocked Armenia’s sole overland conduit to Russia and Europe. It was controversially shut down by Moscow in 2006 and reopened in early 2010 despite the extremely strained Russian-Georgian relations.
The crossing has since been mainly used by companies delivering goods to and from Armenia. Armenian exporters of agricultural products are particularly reliant on it.
Vartanian told journalists that the Armenian and Georgian governments agreed recently to set up a joint venture that will specialize in unblocking the Georgian side of the mountainous road during the winter months.